Tags: blood, blood test, GP, phlebotomist, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatology, rheumatology nurse, surgery
I mentioned to the facilities manager as I left work this morning that I was off for a blood test. When I saw him later he asked, ‘So did they manage to confirm you had blood then?’ Well – actually it was a bit of a struggle! The first attempt to prove I had blood was a dismal failure – in went the needle, out came … nothing. The rhuemy nurse waggled the needle about – nothing happened … except that it hurt … she waggled it about some more … OUCH! We mutually agreed that perhaps trying another spot would be better. It wasn’t. Hmm … I’d walked in rapidly and everything, the blood should have been flowing … but perhaps the problem was that it had all rushed to my head a moment before!
‘Why would it do that?’ I hear you cry. Because she’d just told me that the system of monthly blood tests was changing – in fact it was going. The new guidelines from the hospital are that we only need three-monthly blood tests done by the rheumy nurse. Well OK … that’s fine by me… but here’s the rub.
At the moment I go in for my blood test, have a chat about my arthritis and general health, query anything that’s bothering me rhuemy-wise (usually not a lot, ’cause I’m lucky most of the time!) and book the next appointment. Now the appointment times are being reduced, so I will only see her every three months and have less time for a chat about how things are going because she will have less time per patient, even though she’s not seen us for three months. On top of that – she can no longer book the next appointment – because, mind-bogglingly, ‘the system’ won’t allow booking three months ahead!
I do wonder how much this has to do with the computer system and how much it has to do with the fact that the further in advance appointments are booked, statistically the more patients are likely to fail to attend! So now, instead of a simple month-by-month process of blood tests and booking, I have to remember to do an extra thing – phone about three weeks before my next test is due and book it.
Well, that’s not so bad – after all it’s only three-monthly, isn’t it? I’m still spending less time than I was before attending monthly? Not so fast … I am also supposed to attend in the two intervening months for a 2.5 minute appointment with a phlebotomist, who will just have time to say ‘Hi’, take the blood and throw me out again – but on top of that, that won’t even be an appointment but a ‘walk in’. So if they’re not busy (hah, what are the chances of that, especially as I happen to know they’re short staffed) I could get seen straight away, but if they are busy I could be waiting who knows how long.
I told my nurse I would probably simply not bother attending the phlebotomy walk-ins and she said she thought I would not be alone – she’d heard the same from a number of patients! Of course you could say, and quite rightly, that we’re putting our own health at risk doing that and the service is there … but in six years I’ve never had a blood issue, and I do have a full-time job and I don’t have time to sit about for an hour waiting for a blood test, so … we’ll see.
Anyway, back to today’s blood test – when she scraped me off the ceiling and calmed me down and got the blood flowing round the body again, she was finally able to draw blood … which, I hope, will be fine as usual!
Tags: glasses, hydroxychloroquine, optician, optics, short sighted
(Apologies to Johnny Nash!)
I’m on hydroxychloroquine, which means I’m supposed to have an eye test every year – but I forgot and the optician forgot to send me a reminder!
Then a vague concern that my eyesight might not be as clear as it ought to be, combined with being unable to remember when I had my last eye test made me go and check with the optician, who is handily just down the road from work.
And the outcome is - I have glasses – first time ever – for distance vision i.e. basically driving. It’s slightly concerning (to me, but not to the optician, so it must be OK really) how much clearer things are, considering I only had the vaguest inkling that I might have a problem, and especially considering that two years ago (my last eye test) I didn’t have a problem! If I look at things without the glasses they don’t appear blurred – but then I put them on and they’re suddenly incredibly clear!
I suppose these things just creep up on one – the eye-sight deteriorated pretty gradually over those two years, and it’s only a very light prescription I have now, but the difference is quite extraordinary.
I’m getting used to them – or at least I’ve now stopped having hysterics every time I catch sight of myself in a mirror or shop window!
Tags: aches, arthritis, doctor, joint pain, knee, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, nurse, pain, physical therapy, physio, physiotherapy, R.A., RA, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sleep, stiffness, tiredness, work
I’ve just been to see my GP about a very painful hip that’s been bothering me for about four weeks now and getting worse rather than better. (There’s little point in going until one is a few weeks into the pain as they just say ‘Come back if it’s not better in a few weeks’ if you do that!) I had been getting rather low thinking that the methotrexate increase wasn’t working – but in the back of mind I was wondering if it was arthritis at all. When I saw my rheumy nurse for the monthly blood test a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the hip pain and said, ‘Honestly, I don’t think it’s arthritis – I have plenty of movement in that hip. I could dance the can-can if I had the legs for it!’
Still, it’s funny how one’s mind can almost split into two on things like this; (well, my mind can, anyway). One part of me was thinking ‘Of course it’s not arthritis’ while the other part was thinking, ‘Doom, gloom, despair! My methotrexate increase hasn’t worked – there aren’t many options open to me if it doesn’t … will I end up in a wheelchair?’
Anyway, I saw the doc today and she confirmed that it’s NOT arthritis (or at least very unlikely to be, anyway) – far too much movement in the hip. She has referred me for physio for a dodgy ligament (technical term, that!) but the chances are, she thinks, that it’ll clear up in another few weeks by itself – so I’ll just cancel the appointment, because that’ll probably take three months to come through anyway!
The hip pain (and associated other pains including referred pain in the knee) has been making my life a misery and continues to do so. I have to limit the driving I do because it’s incredibly painful – it also affects work, but I’m very very happy it’s (almost certainly) not arthritis … though I would like to know what on earth caused the ligament to get upset because I haven’t done anything to it!
Tags: aches, arthritis, canadian smocking, cats, cholesterol, coffee, crochet, decafinated, doctor, embroidery, GP, methotrexate, pains, Rheumatoid arthritis, Spanish
Well, I’ve been very remiss posting lately, I must say … so prepare for a very long and rambling post – perhaps I’ll put headings on so you can skip to the bits that you might find interesting! A combination of being very busy and yo-yo health – but fortunately, mostly busyness.
Anyone remember the game ‘fortunately, unfortunately’ where you’d take it turns to make sentences beginning with either fortunately or unfortunately, to make up a story? Well I was wondering whether to write an entire blog post like that, as my life seems to fit that pattern quite well right now – but thought it might get tedious, for you and me! Here’s an example though in case you have no idea what I mean:
Fortunately I have been doing a lot of fun things lately.
Unfortunately doing a lot of fun things is rather exhausting.
Fortunately I am, on the whole, sleeping quite well.
Unfortunately my Spanish teacher forgot I only drink decaf coffee and made me two fully ‘cafinated’ coffees last week, and I had a terrible night’s sleep (or lack of it) trying to climb down off the ceiling.
So – here we go with the update on the health front: About three weeks after my methotrexate increase in May I started to feel much better – go methotrexate! All those ‘regular’ niggly aches in my hands and feet were spirited away – I was still getting twinges and some knee pain (my knees probably being the worst affected bits of me) but no stiffness and none of that constant, nagging, draining pain. Hurrah! Unfortunately … sorry, just slipped into it there … it’s now about twelve weeks later and I’m feeling really pretty rotten. If you’re reading this then the chances are that I don’t need to describe that rotten feeling – you either know it only too well or you probably know me and I’ve moaned at you enough already – so suffice it to say I’m just not feeling good!
I’m hoping, and thinking it most likely, that it’s a temporary blip rather than that the methotrexate is ALREADY not doing the job.
On top of that I had my annual cholesterol test recently … hmm … suffice it to say I am now SERIOUSLY on a diet! It’s very boring – actually that’s not really true – there’s a lot of GREAT and tasty food out there that’s fine for dieting, including much delicious fruit – but remember being a kid and having plenty of toys and games and friends, but you’re BORED and you DON’T WANT ANY OF THOSE? Well that’s how I feel right now about peipono melon and strawberries and lovely home-grown courgettes (zucchini) and all the other apparently delicious things in the fridge! I want caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake! But fortunately (sorry!) the weight is coming off so that’s encouraging me to avoid the cake and stick to the melon! Also I do NOT want to be on Statins at 46!!
And so to cats – it’s been absolutely ages since I mentioned my cats (or indeed my poor hubby, but he might have to wait for another post!) They are still, of course, a central part of my life (as are you hubby-dear, before you read this and complain) and in fact we may have to rename Enormous Cat as Mr. Handsome, as he has dieted (or perhaps I should say we have dieted him?) way more successfully than his penguin, so far. I should get encouragement from him – he’s ten years younger in sprightliness and joi de vivre, although (like me) he does complain loudly that he’s hungry sometimes! And Tiny Cat 2 has really come on – she’s gone from being a practically feral scardeycat to a real member of the family – she’s even been known to sit on my lap for twenty minute at a time and stay quite happily curled up next to hubby when he’s sat down beside her. (Not often – but increasingly.)
Having fun (and occasionally working)
So … the rest of life: I had a lovely visit a few weeks ago to Bro and SIL’s new(ish) house in the Midlands – and we’ve visited some other friends and had some friends visit us; Hubby and I have been doing quite a bit of wildlife surveying which is fun; I’ve been doing a lot of crochet, trying to get something ready for a competition but I fear it’s NOT going to be close to ready - but on the bright side I did get third prize in our local show for my crocheted St. Edwards Crown last month, so that was nice. I have also been trying out ‘Canadian smocking’ which is fun. Just small samples so far, practising on an old gingham curtain, because that way I don’t have to mark out squares on the fabric! I have a cunning plan for a clutch bag based on this technique – but no hurry … and the Spanish is coming on nicely – although to be honest I can understand my Spanish teacher fairly well but plonk me down in Barcelona and ask me to translate and I’m sure I still couldn’t understand a word! Still – getting better! And in amongst all this fun, fun, fun – work has, thank goodness, picked up lately, so we’re busy there too. No wonder I’m tired!
Phew – sorry that was so rambly – I’m off for a lie down now … although Mr Handsome is trying to persuade me to feed him instead.
Tags: blood test, doctor, GP, receptionist
I went into the surgery for my blood test yesterday. I got there in good time and signed in, waited until ten minutes after the appointment was due and went up to the desk to make sure the auto sign-in had worked properly. The receptionist asked who the appointment was with and I didn’t know as it wasn’t my usual nurse, so she found me by my name and assured me I was signed in. I then asked her whether I was the next patient and she said there was one person in front of me.
While not delighted, at least I knew there was a delay so I went and sat down again. Ten minutes later another receptionist called out ‘Is Pollyanna Penguin here?’ and I went up to the desk. It was now 20 minutes past my appointment time. She explained that the nurse I should have been seeing wasn’t in and that another nurse had hoped she could see both sets of patients but was (understandably) running late. She assured me I would be seen if I wanted to wait, but said that otherwise they could re-book for a week’s time, if that was OK.
This is a vast improvement on the way things ran a year or so ago, when the receptionists would just let you sit there all day, and if you went up to ask what was going on they didn’t know! I’ve had a couple of bad experiences like that in the past, so I thought this was a pretty good way of handling it.
The only thing is … when I went up to ask after ten minutes they knew the situation, so I wish someone had thought to tell me then. I know, I know – it’s only another ten minutes, right? But still, I had a busy day yesterday and I could have spent those ten minutes more productively at work than sitting in the doctor’s waiting room playing Angry Birds and feeling like one too!
Tags: arthritis, consultant, diagnosis, doctor, flare, flare-up, hospital, knee, methotrexate, MTX, NHS, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
So I’m increasing my methotrexate. Flippers crossed that all will go well, I won’t get any nasty side effects (except maybe appetite loss, which would actually be a great benefit!) and it’ll keep my disease in control for at least another five years … but what if it doesn’t?
Well I asked my consultant this at my last appointment. He’d said, ‘I’m happy to increase your methotrexate to 17.5 and then to 20 but after that we’ll have to start considering other things if that isn’t doing the trick’.
So I asked him point blank what other things? ‘Oh’ he said airily, ‘there are lots of other things available.’ Well it’s now or never I thought and said what’s been on my mind for a while: ‘I know about biologics, but I won’t qualify for them on the NHS, will I?’ He looked a bit startled and then had to admit that no, I didn’t stand a chance. With my fabulous blood results that never show anything wrong, I’ve got no chance of being offered them at all at the moment.
So … where would I go if the methotrexate doesn’t work or causes problems? Well, I can add sulfasalazine to the mix and see if that does any good. ‘Some people are on three DMARDs’ said the consultant, but even he didn’t sound really convinced about it.
So what it boils down to is that with the usual NHS foresight, if the methotrexate increase doesn’t work and then the sulfasalazine doesn’t work, I would have to wait until I was in a really bad way, unable to work, probably unable to walk (given that feet and knee are the worst bits of me) before they’d even deign to consider me for other treatments. As usual, let’s not make the effort to keep people OK and working – let’s wait until they’re falling apart before helping, even though surely doing it that backwards way doubtless ends up costing ‘the system’ more in the end!
Well, back to crossing those flippers and hoping it never comes to that!
Well I had my annual appointment today with the consultant. He was running nearly two hours late, but I couldn’t complain; if I need that sort of time one day, I’ll want him to spend it on me, so I can’t complain when someone else needs his time and he gives it to them.
Having said that, I did get chatting to another patient over the tea and biccies they bring when they’re running outrageously late, and we ended up talking about Mr Consultant. ‘Is it just me,’ says I, ‘or does he always seem really bored?’
‘Oh my, yes,’ my new friend replied, ‘and he always talks at the notes or the dictaphone, not at you.’
We carried on in this vein for a while, and then talked of other things. It made the time go so much faster having someone to chat to, and luckily for me she was next in line after me, so I could chat to her right up until I was called in.
So I went in expecting a bored and fed up Mr Consultant to glance and me and start chatting to his dictaphone, but no such thing. Just like the experience I had with the nurse six months ago, it was as though he’d had a personality transplant. He was charm itself. We talked through my issues, and instead of saying ‘Well, the bloods are fine, go away and stop bothering me’* he listened carefully as I told him about the various flares in the last six months, examined me, and agreed that if I had had flares and needed steroids, clearly my disease was not fully controlled.
The upshot of it is that my methotrexate dose is increasing to 17.5 mg and we’ll see how we go from there.
I was able to tell my buddy on the way out that she needn’t worry, Mr Consultant was in a good mood today; I just hope she found the same!
* Not that he’s ever been that blunt, it just feels that way!
Tags: arthritis, fractures, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology
You know, when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis six years ago, when I was 39, comments like that used to really annoy me. I lost count of the number of people who said things like ‘Oh, aren’t you a bit young for that? My granny has that. She’s lost some weight lately though and feels so much better.’
‘Why do people have to make dumb comments like that?’ I’d wonder. So I’d try educating them – I’d patiently explain that what I had was rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease where my body has decided it’s a neat idea to attack its own joints, whereas what their granny had was probably osteoarthritis.
My favourite response to that was ‘Oh no – she had a big bowl of cereal every day and had really strong bones.’ So I then had to explain that osteoarthritis was ‘wear and tear’ arthritis, and what they were thinking of with the milk was osteoporosis, which is a reduction in bone density that can lead to fractures amongst other things, and which can (maybe … sometimes) be avoided by a good calcium intake.
Usually, with a few deep breaths and counts to ten, I would manage an explanation that convinced them that granny and I didn’t have the same thing – but it did used to drive me nuts.
Now, seven years on, I’m 45, overweight, look 50 on a bad day, and nobody says ‘Aren’t you too young for that?’ any more.
I kind of miss it.
Tags: autoimmune, autoimmune arthritis, autoimmune diseases, booths, free register, health, IAAM, medicine, Register Free, virtual convention, WAAD, World Autoimmune Arthritis Day
World Autoimmune Arthritis Day – yes, it really is global, because it’s also virtual. All you need is an internet connection, and it’s FREE.
REGISTER for FREE to attend World Autoimmune Arthritis Day’s 2013 Virtual Convention, here: http://worldautoimmunearthritisday.org/expo/
World Autoimmune Arthritis Day is an annual 47-hour event where nonprofits, advocates, and experts from around the world unite in order to provide educational and awareness information to patients, their supporters, and the general public.
If you ‘attended’ in 2012, which was a great event, this one should be even bigger and better, with Nonprofit Booths, Vendors, a Raffle and a special feature: A Day in the Life with Autoimmune Arthritis (an Apple/Android app and Exhibit Booth).
It starts at 11am British Summer time or 6am ET/USA on May 19th and ends at 10am British Summer Time or 5 am ET/USA May 21st, 2013. It is an interactive, LIVE, Virtual Convention that you can attend for FREE…just find an internet connection and join the rest of the world for 47 hours of education and fun!
Tags: aches, broken bones, doctor, GP, joint pain, NHS, osteoporosis, pain, polymyalgia rheumatica, R.A., rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, rickets, stiffness, sunshine, vitamin D
I’m calling this Vitamin D-tail because it’s vitamin D in detail. I suppose it could have been Vitamin D-tale – the tale of vitamin D, but anyway, after my rambling and vague post about Vitamin D, Eileen in Italy posted a rather long comment, which I suggested we expand into a guest post, and here it is.
Eileen is a graduate of physiology and worked in the NHS before moving abroad. She has polymyalgia rheumatica, and spends a lot of her time making medical stuff comprehensible for other sufferers. As you will see below, she has a knack for this!
Vitamin D – you’ll probably have seen a lot in the media over the last few months. You might even have asked your doctor about it and probably got a dismissive “You get all you need from diet and sun and it isn’t important.” In the words of the song: “that ain’t necessarily so!”
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin – it is something called a pro-hormone and is made in the skin by the action of the sun’s rays on cholesterol and stored in the liver to be used to make a variety of different hormones. It is very important for the way the body uses calcium – without enough vit D you may have a low level of calcium in your blood and, in the long term, you may not build bone properly.
Why do we need it?
The original importance of vit D was seen as preventing rickets in children and it helps prevent osteoporosis in adults. However – that isn’t all: it is now thought that it is involved in many processes in the body and being deficient can give you aches and pains in your muscles and joints and contribute to depression and may be particularly significant in autoimmune disorders. More and more research is suggesting, too, that the amount we need is really much higher than what they have been saying for years.
Where do we get it from?
Many GPs still believe you get vit D from food – in fact you get less than 10% of even the amount they say you need in food. It is found in oily fish, salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, for example. It is highest in wild fish – and even then you would need half a pound of salmon every day to get what you need – but much lower in farmed fish so you would need more. Tinned tuna in oil has far less than fresh – and the “healthy” version in water has almost none left because of the canning process. Other than that you could have a 17 egg omelette for lunch, or a couple of kilos of mushrooms. When you see in an article that “fortified” foods provide vit D that mainly applies for the USA where milk, orange juice and cereals have vit D added to them. Not so in the UK where margarine is described as fortified – but only so that it has the same amount of vit D as butter! The food with the highest level of vit D is fish oils – maybe great grandma knew something when she got the bottle and spoon out! But you must not rely on cod liver oil – it also has a lot of vitamin A in it and that is dangerous if you take too much.
The main way to get enough is being out in the sun: about 20% of your skin needs to be exposed to the sun between about 11am and 3pm in order to be able to manufacture enough. But there are problems with this in the modern world and living in northern climes. The skin factory is most efficient at the age of 20, from then on it starts to slow down gradually anyway until at age 70 it is at less than 25% capacity. As you get older, you wear more clothes and spend more time indoors during the middle of the day doing boring things like work, looking at that lovely sunshine through the window – which blocks the essential wavelengths of light. When you do go out you use sunscreen – many foundations now contain Factor 15 and even Factor 8 sunscreen reduces the amount made by over 90%. And we have had it drummed into us that we shouldn’t go out in the midday sun and always “slip, slap, slop”. Anyone living north of Turin in northern Italy is so far from the equator that between October and May they won’t make enough vit D from the sun – the sun’s rays have to strike your skin at a high angle to flick the switch to turn the machine on, once your shadow is longer than you are tall – the sun isn’t strong enough. The further you are north, the less you make. So that means that you have to store it up between May and September – and then you get a summer like last year! In children, all this is added to by the fear of letting children out to play and their desire to play on computers rather than on the swings. And if you have dark skin or a suntan – your skin factory takes even longer to make vit D.
What are the issues if we don’t get enough?
I live in northern Italy, just slightly north of the level of Turin, and it is reckoned by our local osteoporosis expert that even here more than 80% of the population (both men and women) are vit D deficient and that increases a lot of risks as they age. Obviously most people know about osteoporosis and resultant broken bones – but fewer know about its role in muscle health. Severe deficiency can lead to similar stiffness and aches to those that many people with arthritises are familiar with. A few weeks of very high doses may improve that dramatically. It is something that should always be checked to rule it out with regard to one particular arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, as the symptoms are so similar. There’s nothing to say you aren’t suffering from both, but improving your vit D status rules out one cause. As we age we tend to fall more (another factor increasing your fracture risk) and studies have shown that improving vit D levels reduces the number of falls and broken bones the elderly have as well as improving their balance in general, walking and ability to get up from chairs unaided. In fact, it is thought that simply making sure residents in homes are drinking plenty and improving their vit D would prevent a large proportion of the falls that are so common and can lead to hospitalisation.
Getting a test
A request to your GP to check your vit D level is often met with some degree of scorn but anyone with an autoimmune disease should have it checked because low vit D and autoimmune disease are associated but it isn’t known whether it is cause or effect – and everyone who is told to take “bone protection” medications (bisphosphonates or alendronic acid) should also have their vit D and calcium levels checked first because they don’t work if you are low on either and they can reduce your calcium levels even further and make you ill. It is stated in the drug information by the manufacturers – some doctors tend to think they know better. Someone I know was allowed to have her vit D checked with a very patronising attitude by the GP: “It’s very expensive you know, about £200”. It isn’t, it costs about £25 and, as a last resort, a hospital in the Midlands offers it to anyone by post as well as to NHS hospitals!
What do you do once you know what your vit D level is?
The level at which you are said to be deficient varies from one NHS Trust to another. As an example, however, Gateshead Trust in the northeast of England recommends a range of 48 -144 nmol/litre as being adequate. Below 25 they say it should be treated with high dose vit D3 – and by high dose they mean 60,000 IU a week for 12 weeks! That, of course, needs to be done under medical supervision although if you are very deficient the likelihood of adverse effects is not very high. Between 25 and 50 they recommend supplements of 1,000-2,000 IU a day for 12 weeks, and it is easy and relatively cheap to obtain tablets for that sort of dose from Boots or Holland&Barrett. Once you are what they describe as “replete” you should continue with 800-1,000 IU/day, especially in the winter but also if you are not getting out into the sun much. Even with supplements some people find their vit D level falls quite rapidly so having your vit D checked every year or if any symptoms that disappeared with being given vit D return may be a good idea.
Be careful though: if you are on the standard “calcichew” supplements given to you if you take prednisolone, do not just take extra tablets to increase your vit D intake (whatever your doctor suggests). Taking calcium and vit D supplements together can sometimes cause kidney stones or “grit” which can irritate your bladder. You need some extra calcium because of taking prednisolone (it makes you lose more in your urine) but too much is not a good thing. If you need more vit D than the 800 IU in two tablets then buy pure vit D tablets and take both. You should not take more than 4,000 IU of vit D a day unless your doctor tells you to but 2,000 IU is a perfectly safe dose for most adults.
And if you want to top up your vit D the skin way: it is safe to stay in the sun with no sunscreen for about 10 minutes, or the time it takes to start to get a tiny bit pink and warm and Cancer UK has issued some guidelines for safe sun exposure rather than the previous “don’t go out in the sun” mantra. Low vit D has also been associated with depressive mood and with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) but going out in the sun for a walk will achieve a lot in terms of making you feel better. All the UK needs now is some sun!
A few references:
http://pain-topics.org/pdf/vitamind-report.pdf Pain relief through vitamin D